This year’s version of West Virginia University’s men’s basketball squad opened Big 12 play today on the road versus the TCU Horned Frogs. Terry Henderson got the party started early by hitting an initial three after patient ball movement by the Mountaineers. TCU answered with a three of their own, and the 2014 Big 12 basketball season was in full swing. Little did fans know, that those two opening baskets would foreshadow much of the first half.
Amric Fields started hot for TCU, hitting 2 threes while starting 3-3 from the floor. WVU spread the ball around and just about everyone got in on the early scoring. Then Eron Harris made two back-to-back threes and (if you happen to remember NBA Jam) he was heating up! Unfortunately, TCU was also stroking the three ball and halfway into the first half had already made 7 treys.
While TCU couldn’t miss a three, they also did not collect an offensive rebound until a little more than 16 into the game. At face value, that is an impressive stat until you realize that they happen to be 220th in the country in that category. That being said, they are also 211th in shooting percentage, which doesn’t explain the shooting clinic put on in the first half, where they finished 51.9% from the floor.
For WVU, Nathan Adrian looked impressive on both sides of the floor and had 9 points in the first half. One of his highlights came when he set a screen resulting in a huge alley oop from Staten to Harris that should make a highlight real somewhere. Devin Williams added 9 hard-earned points while dealing with the defense of TCU's Karviar Shepherd. Finally, Eron Harris, who was battling the flu this game, finished the first half with 13 points as WVU took a 3 point lead at the half 42-39.
At halftime, TCU had made 7-10 threes while WVU finished 6-12. It looked like both teams would duke it out beyond the arch in the second half too. However, a stat that became extremely relevant in the second half was that WVU went 10-11 from the free throw line while TCU went 4-5. When a team shoots as well as TCU did in the first half, a lack of free throws might not mean much. But when that team stops making shots, it could prove to be very costly, as it did for TCU.
As exciting as the first half was, the second half was almost exactly the opposite. Unfortunately for those who were watching, the officials discovered their whistles and with 11:27 to play, TCU was in the Bonus. By the time they got there though, WVU had attempted 10 more free throws in the game.
Much of the second half was spent at the free throw line (or so it seemed) and the game was getting a little too close for Mountaineer fans when Eron Harris drained another three to put WVU up by 5. Then, with 6:25 left, TCU's point guard Kyan Anderson fouled out after tallying 12 points. Realizing that a new player was running the offense, Bob Huggins switched defensive strategies to the 1-3-1 zone. This was an effective strategy since TCU had gone cold and struggled to score against WVU's not-so-secret weapon.
With the clock ticking down, and the game within two possessions, Juwan Staten took the Mountaineers on his shoulders. With back-to-back baskets (by Staten) making the lead to 71-67, WVU looked to shut the door on the Horned Frogs when Staten missed a wide-open layup. The 1-3-1 came to the rescue again and forced a turnover, but WVU struggled late with free throws. A late steal and drive to the basket by Staten put the game out of reach at 74-67 before a last second tip by TCU made the final score 74-69.
Leading WVU in scoring, Eron Harris finished the game with 22 points. He was also battling the flu, if you missed that sentence earlier. You have to respect the toughness of a kid who puts on the performance he did while not feeling 100%. Juwan Staten added 15 in another solid game. Devin Williams continues to impress and finished with 12, while Terry Henderson added 10. Nathan Adrian, who had a solid first half, disappeared for much of the second and finished with 9 points, all from the first.
WVU finished the game shooting 40.7%, 7-17 from 3, and 19-28 free throws. With close games like this becoming the norm, the Mountaineers will need to improve its foul shooting. Luckily, TCU came back to Earth and finished the game shooting 47.25, 9-19 from 3, and only 10-17 free throws. TCU's main scorers were Amric Fields: 22, Brandon Parrish: 18, and Kyan Anderson: 12.
While the atmosphere at TCU left much to be desired, a road win against a conference opponent is always a good thing. WVU looked much more disciplined in all phases of the game than last year, and their effort was noted several times by the announcers. The Mountaineers seem to be playing smarter AND harder this year, which is a welcome sight to the WVU faithful. WVU stays in Texas to face Texas Tech on Monday for another conference road test.
As always, Let's GO!